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The Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera

Jonas Pfeil used Shapeways 3D printing to fabricate his Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera, a project of the Computer Graphics Group, TU Berlin..

Panoramic photography creates fascinating images. Very wide angle images are closer to the human field of view than conventional pictures. If seen through a panoramic viewer they let us experience a location as if we were there. Panoramic image stitching can create panoramas from pictures taken one after another. Unfortunately, acquiring the images takes a lot of time and moving objects may cause ghosting. It is also difficult to obtain a full spherical panorama, because the downward picture cannot be captured while the camera is mounted on the tripod.  

In this work, we present a throwable panoramic camera that solves these problems. The camera is thrown into the air and captures an image at the highest point of flight – when it is hardly moving. The camera takes full spherical panoramas, requires no preparation and images are taken instantaneously. It can capture scenes with many moving objects without producing ghosting artifacts and creates unique images.

Our camera uses 36 fixed-focus 2 megapixel mobile phone camera
modules. The camera modules are mounted in a robust, 3D-printed,
ball-shaped enclosure that is padded with foam and handles just like a
ball. Our camera contains an accelerometer which we use to measure
launch acceleration. Integration lets us predict rise time to the
highest point, where we trigger the exposure. After catching the ball
camera, pictures are downloaded in seconds using USB and automatically
shown in our spherical panoramic viewer. This lets users interactively
explore a full representation of the captured environment.

We used the camera to capture full spherical panoramas at
scenic spots, in a crowded city square and in the middle of a group of
people taking turns in throwing the camera. Above all we found that it
is a very enjoyable, playful way to take pictures.

This project shows the great potential of the use of 3D printing to realize complex projects with bespoke housings without the usual expense of fabrication.  When it comes time for the next iteration with higher resolution cameras, different accelerometer or some other modification, the cost to produce the next version will be approximately the same as making another copy of the exact same housing.  This lowers the barrier of entry, encourages improvements and promotes innovation.  Check out the video below to see the unit in action.

Thanks Jonas

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Shapeways Designer Evangelist
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